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176                                                                                  B- POLEVOI
Struchkov looked abashed, but he would not confess
defeat. He said, not very confidently, it is true:
"M'yes. The attack was repulsed. Never mind, we'll
try again."
He lay quiet until midnight, whistling softly, and some-
times ejaculating, as if in answer to his thoughts:
Shortly after this incident Konstantin Kukushkin was
discharged from the hospital. He showed no emotion on
leaving, and when bidding his wardmates farewell he
merely remarked that he was fed up with hospital life.
He carelessly said good-bye to all, but begged Meresyev
and the nurse, if any letters came from his mother, to
take care of them and send them on to him to his
"Write and tell us how you get on, and how the com-
rades welcomed you," were Meresyev's parting words.
"Why should I write to you? What do you care about
rne? I won't write, it would only be wasting paper, you
wouldn't answer, anyhow!"
"Just as you please!"
Evidently, Kukushkin did not hear that last remark;
he walked out of the ward without turning round again.
And also without a parting backward glance he walked
out of the hospital gates, proceeded along the embank-
ment and turned the corner, although he knew perfectly
well that, according to custom, all his former wardmates
were at the window watching him.
Nevertheless, he did write to Alexei, and rather soon.
It was a letter written in a dry, matter-of-fact tone. All
he wrote about himself was that the wing appeared to
be glad to see him back, but he forthwith added that the
wing had suffered heavy casualties in recent battles and,
of course, they would be glad to have back anyone with
any experience. He gave a list of the killed and wounded,
wrote that Meresyev was still remembered in the wing,
and that the Wing Commander, who had been promoted
to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, on hearing of Mere-
syev's gymnastic feats and of his determination to return
to the Air Force, had said: "Meresyev will come back.
He's the kind that sticks to a resolve," and that in reply
to this the Chief of Staff had said that one could not do